January 31, 2023

Drinking on the Dark Side

I’m going to tack in a different direction and discuss that malty cousin to wine, also known as beer.

Some people may wonder what a wine column is doing discussing beer. In truth, I think of my musings as an equal opportunity chance to highlight all tasty beverages of the adult persuasion. Besides, those that know the wine industry are familiar with the cliché, “It takes a lot of beer to make great wine.” And this is the best time of year for beer.

The fall and winter months bring the return of all the tasty seasonals that warm you up on a cold night and taste so good with hearty winter foods. Those that scoff may stop and ponder for a second just how much terroir a good beer has. The famed brews of Burton on Trent would not be the same without the extremely hard water resulting from the surrounding gypsum laced hills. Czech Pilsner beer owes as much of its character to its incredibly soft water that is virtually free of mineral salts.

Beer is extremely regional, too. As wine continues to consolidate and conglomerate towards a rather uniform character around the world, beer remains a very regional drink in many parts of the world, and especially those with a long history of beer culture. Driving from Munich, to Berlin, to Cologne brings you a new style at each stop.

The return of the prime beer season kicks off with Oktoberfest. It’s the celebration of the harvest and all the bounty that comes from nature, and with it comes the delectable beer of the same name (or for those that are beer snobs, I’ll call it Marzen). The beer was actually brewed in springtime traditionally and lagered in caves during the summer months when brewing was not possible before modern production methods. It’s a reddish, amber colored beer with malty character that makes me want to put on a pair of lederhosen just thinking about it. One of my favorites is argued to be the first Oktoberfestbier ever brewed, from the Spaten brewery in Munich. Several great examples of the style exist though, and it’s always a welcome return.

Once the leaves change color and begin to drop, then the serious winter seasonal beers begin to arrive. Most are pitch black, robust in flavor, and not for the faint-hearted beer wussies out there. I’m talking about beers with names like porters, stouts, and even the heavyweight of beer champions known as barley wines. They’re dark in color thanks to heavily roasted malts and higher in alcohol because more malt gets added to the batch. They have wonderful coffee, dark chocolate, molasses, and smoky flavors that bring a smile to the soul.

Yes, many of the beer styles I just mentioned are brewed year round, but during the wintertime breweries dip into their bag of tricks and release the special formulas that are only available a few cold months out of the year. Names like Anchor Christmas Ale, Bridgeport Ebenezer Ale, Samuel Adams Old Feziwig, and Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale are just a few that come to mind.

Part of the winter seasonal portfolio is also the non-traditional spiced and flavored beers. I’m sure several of you out there have tried a pumpkin beer at one time or another. Done well, a pleasing dark, malty beer with a hint of holiday spice just hits the spot on a long winter night. And of course, since I’m all about supporting the locals, I have to recommend everyone take a trip down to Tempe and enjoy a pint of the Pumpkin Porter that has become a Halloween tradition at Four Peaks Brewery (of course, you might have to wait until next year as it goes fast).

In Sedona, Oak Creek Brewery is definitely a must-stop. Many local brewers make a special winter beer to curl up with when it’s cold outside. Even though the days get short and the pants get long, I always look forward to drinking this time of year, as the selection simply can’t be beat.

So, for all those beer novices out there that haven’t experienced the wonderful flavors of the winter brew, run down to your local brewery, ask them what was brewed for the winter months, and enjoy a trip to the dark side of drinking with a nice holiday seasonal beer. And as always, remember to tip your bartenders and drive home sober.






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